Read the full article by Lauren Ellis and Samantha Liskow (Environmental Defense Fund)

A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma…

In our research on PFAS LVEs, we found a troubling discrepancy—EPA’s website says there are ‘over 600 granted PFAS LVEs’—but its public list includes only 488.

When we asked for a list of the missing chemicals, EPA declined to provide it, claiming that doing so would reveal ‘confidential business information’ (CBI).

The agency explained that the missing chemicals do not contain the term ‘fluor’ in their ‘generic’ names (names companies design to withhold specific features of their chemical’s structure), and therefore EPA would be divulging CBI if it identified these chemicals on a list of PFAS LVEs.

But public disclosure that a chemical belongs to the very large PFAS chemical class is far from disclosure of the specific chemical structure.

CBI is meant to protect companies’ legitimate trade secrets, not enable them to conceal that their products belong to the PFAS chemical class. The hundreds of generic names on EPA’s public list of PFAS LVEs is evidence that companies can (and do) create descriptive generic names for their PFAS.

What’s in a Name?
PFAS are carbon-based chemicals that contain fluorine. As such, the term ‘fluor’ is included in the specific names of all PFAS.

However, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), companies seeking EPA approval of their new chemicals may withhold the specific names of those chemicals if they can demonstrate that—among other considerations—disclosure of the names would cause ‘substantial harm to the [company’s] competitive position.’

If companies do claim that the specific name of their chemical is confidential, and withhold it, TSCA requires them to provide EPA with a ‘structurally descriptive generic name’ for public disclosure.

It’s important for companies to include the term ‘fluor’ in the generic names of their PFAS because this is the only way others can identify it as a potential PFAS. This is necessary for both the public to be able to identify generically named PFAS and for chemical importers and users to understand their supply chains and comply with regulations.

The Plot Thickens…
Unfortunately, companies do not always include ‘fluor’ in the generic names they give their PFAS.

Trump-era EPA general guidance for creating generic names specifies that companies can use the broader term ‘halo,’ rather than ‘fluor,’ to mask the fact that the specific halogen (‘halo’) in their chemical is, in fact, fluorine (‘fluor’). When companies do use the term ‘halo’ instead of ‘fluor’ to generically name their PFAS, they prevent detection of the chemical as a PFAS—leaving the public and other stakeholders in the dark.

There is another problem too. The term ‘halo’ is not a sufficient substitute for ‘fluor’ when crafting ‘structurally descriptive’ generic names of PFAS, as required under TSCA. That is because PFAS have physical and chemical properties (particularly, those that lead to extreme persistence in the environment) that are distinct from most other organic compounds that contain halogens and contribute to PFAS risk.” …